Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 26, 2018 Guest: Robert McDonald
HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That was a super, super compelling fascinating interview, Chris. My god.
HAYES: I`m really like -- it`s really moving. Amazing.
MADDOW: Yes, goose bumps. Incredible. Thanks.
MADDOW: Well done.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. So has there been enough news for you today or would you like some more?
Right now as I speak North Korea and South Korea are holding a summit on the border between those countries. It`s daytime there, daylight right now, because it`s tomorrow in terms of the time difference. Obviously, this is very, very, very high stakes -- excuse me -- historical diplomacy.
And it comes on a day when the United States government has confirmed a new secretary of state, former Republican congressman and immediate former CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Mr. Pompeo was confirmed today, and then he left immediately for a NATO meeting in Brussels.
The White House today released these photos of Mr. Pompeo meeting with and shaking hands with the North Korean dictator on a secret trip that he took last month. Pompeo`s confirmation by the Senate today and the North and South Korea Senate that`s happening right now as I speak, it comes just weeks before what is apparently still planned to be a meeting between Kim Jong un, the North Korean dictator, and our own President Trump.
Now, President Trump did not have his most cool, calm, and collected day today. So this little preview tonight of the president`s own meeting with one of the most notorious and unpredictable nuclear armed dictators in the world, it`s not a relaxing feeling to know that our president in his current state of mind is about to sit down with that guy.
But it`s been a lot of -- it`s been an unsettling day of news. It`s also been a day with tons of news in it. Pompeo confirmed as secretary of state. So, he`s going to be taking over that critical agency after a year that is considered by everyone on all sides to have been a disaster for the State Department under Trump`s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
Today also, the president`s nomination of the White House doctor to be V.A. secretary, that nomination collapsed and was withdrawn. In the aftermath of that disaster, it is not clear what`s going to happen to the V.A., and honestly, it`s not clear whether Ronny Jackson can keep being the White House doctor anymore, not after what we learned about his tenure there, thanks to the scrutiny that came from this failed nomination effort. We will have more on that coming up tonight. And we`ve got a really good interview on that subject tonight.
Today, we also saw the EPA administrator pop his head above ground for the first time in weeks, since he started to become a daily Old Faithful geyser of astonishing ethics scandals, a new one every day. Line up and watch while the new one erupts. Scott Pruitt spent a long-awaited day at the Capitol today, getting yelled at by members of Congress all day long.
There is one matter on which Scott Pruitt testified today where he appears to just be flat out lying to Congress. We will have that story coming up tonight as well, with some new reporting you have not heard on that.
And, of course, today, a huge moment in American culture and criminal law, with legendary American comedian and actor Bill Cosby being convicted in a Pennsylvania courtroom on three felony charges. Dozens of women, of course, have come forward in the past few years to accuse Bill Cosby of a remarkable series -- excuse me, a remarkably similar set of allegations. Dozens of women have come forward and accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting them or drugging and raping them.
Only one of those claims, by Andrea Constand in Pennsylvania, resulted in criminal charges being brought against Mr. Cosby. Charges were brought against Cosby in the Constand case in December 2015, just a few days before the statute of limitations would have meant that she couldn`t pursue recourse in court either. But those charges were filed within the 12-year statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for charges of this nature, and he was convicted on all three, and with today`s three felony convictions, Mr. Cosby is facing up to a maximum of 30 years in prison. That said, he and his lawyers say emphatically that they will appeal.
So like I said, totally normal news day, right? I mean, even if you don`t get to the release of some of the very last government files on the JFK assassination, which also happened today, and even if you don`t get to the huge teacher walkouts that happened in two big states today. Actually, we will get to those a little bit later on.
And then there`s the speaker of the house, Paul Ryan, inexplicably firing the chaplain from Congress today. And nobody knows why.
I mean, in a normal presidency the seemingly inexplicable and thus far totally mysterious firing of the chaplain in Congress by the speaker of the house, that would be a week`s worth of news, right? Tonight, in our lives now, in this presidency, yes, you`ve just got to like put that in the file because hey, we`ve got a whole bunch of stuff going off like roman candles inside a phone booth right now, we`ve got other stuff to get to.
All this -- I know I have said is this before, but all this to say if you feel overwhelmed by the news in America right now, it`s OK. It`s not you. The news is a little overwhelming right now, and it continues to be. But it is worth paying attention, not only because you`re a good citizen but also because this overwhelming amount of news is also fascinating right now. I mean, among all of the other things that happened today, today the president appears to have personally blown up the main point of his legal defense in the case that he and his advisers are even more worried about than the Robert Mueller inquiry.
"The New York Times" has reported over the last couple of weeks that the president and his advisers have concluded that the federal criminal investigation into Michael Cohen poses a greater threat than even the investigation into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election by the special counsel Robert Mueller. And that may be, that the president and his advisers are even more worried about the Michael Cohen case, that the president himself believes that the Michael Cohen case puts the president in the most imminent legal jeopardy that he is facing right now. But even with all of that concern, even with all of the focus and worry and maybe even panic about that case, today the president blew it up. The president himself took on his own legal defense in that case and just cut it off at the knees.
This time last night, we were reporting that Rudy Giuliani, who is now acting as one of the president`s lawyers on the Russia matter, this time last night, we reported that he had just gone and had his first meeting yesterday with Robert Mueller and with Robert Mueller`s prosecutors in the special counsel`s office. Now, the president hired Rudy Giuliani to represent him on the Russia matter one week ago tonight. On that same day that we found out he just hired Rudy, we also learned that President Trump had hired two more lawyers as well. Martin and Jane Raskin, a husband and wife team who practice together in Florida.
Because their hiring was announced at the same time as Mr. Giuliani`s hiring, it was assumed that they too were hired to represent the president on the Russia investigation, on the Mueller investigation. I mean, that was a little bit weird when Rudy Giuliani went on to say that evening that he was planning on ending the Mueller investigation in two weeks, right? If that`s your plan, why would you also need to hire two whole new lawyers to start working on that case on that same day if it`s just about to wrap up? It was a little weird.
Well, now today, today, we can explain the weirdness there. Today, we have learned that the new legal firepower the president brought on board alongside Rudy Giuliani, they are not apparently there to work on the Mueller case. They`re there to work on the Cohen case, specifically, the president brought on these new lawyers to try to stop the president from being legally exposed in the Cohen case.
"Washington Post" ran a profile of these two new lawyers for the president today, and it says in part, quote: Among their early assignments is to try to use attorney-client protections to keep investigators from scouring Trump`s communications with his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who is under federal scrutiny. So, one, the president`s new lawyers are working on the Cohen case. They weren`t just hired for Mueller, which is what we had previously thought. That`s supporting evidence for what "The New York Times" has been reporting about how clear and present the president feels the danger is from the Michael Cohen case. He`s hiring new lawyers and putting them on that.
But the other part of this is that we`ve also now got overwhelming evidence of what the president`s defense is in that case, how exactly the president`s lawyers think they can best protect him in that case. And you`ve seen it from the very beginning. From the very beginning, the president himself seemed to understand it just implicitly. His initial response to the FBI raid on Michael Cohen`s home and office on April 9th was this: attorney-client privilege is dead. That was his response to Michael Cohen getting raided, right?
And this is frankly the big idea of how to protect the president in the Cohen case. Prosecutors should not have been able to seize, they should not be able to look at, they should not be able to build any sort of case based on anything they got from Michael Cohen because Michael Cohen is a lawyer, Michael Cohen is a diligent attorney who has confidential communications all the time with his many clients and therefore all his documents and communications are or ought to be off limits to prosecutors and the FBI, god bless attorney-client privilege. That`s been the defense.
Several problems with that strategy emerged fairly quickly. First, prosecutors were quickly able to pry out of Michael Cohen an admission from him that actually he has only three clients. He does not have a gazillion clients. He has three.
One of them, he says, is a host on the Fox News Channel, who quickly made a public declaration that actually Michael Cohen never really did any legal work for him at all. Quote: Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees.
OK. So not a lot of legal production that`s going to turn up in a raid of Michael Cohen`s files in that case. That`s client one.
Client two, RNC official Elliott Broidy, who says Michael Cohen briefly represented him recently on just one discrete matter. Michael Cohen arranged a payoff to a woman who says she got pregnant during an affair with Elliott Broidy. Broidy says he engaged Michael Cohen on that matter specifically to arrange a payment to that woman. As compensation? I don`t know.
Part of an agreement to not go to the press or something? Just a goodwill payment? Thanks for the affair? It`s not totally clear what the payment was for.
But even though the public revelations around that deal were a little odd, when it comes to the feds raiding Michael Cohen`s home and office looking for documents related to this ongoing federal criminal investigation into Michael Cohen -- well, it seems like the RNC deputy finance chairman paying his mistress deal, it seems that was a specific enough deal, a specific enough legal matter that it would be pretty easy to wall that off, right? It`s not like you`re going to mistake a lot of other legal work for that. That`s a pretty specific thing. Doesn`t seem like it would be that hard to find things related to that matter, isolate them, and make sure they don`t get mixed up with other things the prosecutors were looking for.
That seems like a discrete matter in both senses of the word discrete. Walling that off would not be rocket science. But then there`s the third and final client Michael Cohen says he has. And that of course is President Trump.
So, the sum total of Michael Cohen`s potentially confidential communications with clients are with Mr. Hannity from Fox News, who says he`s had no actual legal representation from Mr. Cohen, so don`t worry about him. Then there`s Mr. Broidy, who says Cohen repped him on one single matter related to paying a lady. OK, that can probably be walled off.
But then there`s Trump, which means really the whole strategy in this case against these federal prosecutors and the FBI going after Cohen, what Cohen`s lawyers have been pursuing in court, what the president has actually hired multiple new lawyers to pursue in court, their whole case for protecting Michael Cohen and for protecting the president in the Michael Cohen case, the whole kit and caboodle of their argument is that Michael Cohen is safe from prosecution and even investigation, his papers, his documents, his hard drive, his phones, they really can`t be scrutinized at all by the FBI because of his voluminous confidential privileged legal communications between himself as an attorney and his one substantive remaining client. Because he does such a massive amount of legal work for president Trump, he and Trump should be safe in this case. That`s their defense. That`s their case.
Here was Mr. Trump today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But isn`t your -- isn`t his business your attorney, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have many, many -- just so you understand, I have many attorneys. I have attorneys -- sadly, I have so many attorneys you wouldn`t even believe it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much of -- Mr. President, how much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?
TRUMP: Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work a tiny, tiny little fraction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny little fraction. Nothing really. This far away, you can`t even see it.
The president has hired lawyers, and Michael Cohen has hired lawyers to protect the president and protect Michael Cohen in this federal case, by claiming that federal prosecutors are trying to seize documents related to Michael Cohen`s confidential attorney-client communications with the president. And since prosecutors and the FBI can`t have access to those, case closed, they`ve got nothing. That`s their defense.
The president today apparently got up, ate his Wheaties, had his caffeinated beverage of choice or ten, and called up his favorite TV show, and he destroyed that case. That his lawyers have been painstakingly making on his behalf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Michael is in business. He`s really a businessman. A fairly big business as I understand it. I don`t know his business.
But this doesn`t have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He`s got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business.
And they`re looking to something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business. He`s got businesses. And from what I understand, they`re looking at his businesses. And I hope he`s in great shape.
But he`s got businesses. And his lawyers probably told him to do that. But I`m not involved and I`m not -- and I`ve been told I`m not involved. That came out of the newspaper. I`ve been told I`m not involved.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, we want to get to Kanye West. He tweeted that he loves you --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Fox News are like so, should we pull the rip cord here? Break glass in case of emergency?
Yes, Mr. President, let`s talk about a celebrity who loves you. Amazing segue in that moment. Yes, we got it is, sir. OK, yes. OK. Somebody hit the Kanye West button.
Well, what the Fox hosts were sitting through there before emergency break glass was the president explaining that yes, the Michael Cohen raid, that has nothing to do with Michael Cohen`s work as a lawyer, certainly not his work as a lawyer for the president. This has nothing to do with the president and certainly not anything legal related to -- the whole Trump and Cohen legal defense in this case thus far is the exact opposite of that. That they can`t raid him, they can`t look at that stuff because it`s all Trump-Cohen confidential attorney-client legal communications and those are sacrosanct. That`s their whole defense.
The president just blew it up. I also feel like I would be remiss if I did not show you just one other little piece of this. This is from the very end of this interview this morning. I don`t know. You may watch that show regularly, where the president did this interview this morning.
But just in case you don`t, I feel like you should not miss, just as a citizen, you shouldn`t -- as a citizen, you should know how much the president really lost it by the end of this interview today. So much so that the hosts of this show on Fox News felt like they needed to cut him off and stop him from saying what he was saying. They did like -- at the end of the interview, it basically ended with an intervention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You take $700,000 from somebody supporting Hillary Clinton, he takes $700,000 for his wife`s campaign -- by the way, didn`t even spend that money. He kept some of it because under that lawyer she took seven -- she took $700,000 from a group headed by Terry McAuliffe, who was under investigation by McCabe and the FBI, and that investigation disappeared. He took $700,000.
And you look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it`s a disgrace. And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from but at some point I won`t.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
TRUMP: Our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia. There is no collusion with me and Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
TRUMP: And everyone knows it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could talk to you all day but it looks like you have a million things to do. But I hope you can join us again, Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much for --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK, yes, you know, I -- our justice department which I try and stay away from but at some point I won`t. And then the hosts start going, OK, OK, hmm-hmm. Uh-huh.
My favorite part is where the one host says, wow, sir, we`d love to talk to you all day. And then the president goes yes, you could. That would be OK. We could talk all day.
And then Fox cuts him off, while he is screaming, literally yelling into the phone that he`s going to do something to the Justice Department. Fox cuts him off. We understand you`re very busy, Mr. President. He`s like no, no, I`m good.
So this was a weird day. You know, the president was too weird and unhinged for "Fox & Friends" and they cut him off. The president blew up the legal case that his lawyers have been pleading on his behalf alongside lawyers for Michael Cohen.
And I don`t just mean that what the president said about that legal case today was off message and it sounded bad when he said it. I mean less than two hours after the president shredded his own legal case in this TV interview claiming that Michael Cohen does almost no legal work for him at all, federal prosecutors on the Cohen case actually submitted a new court filing in that case.
Quoting the president directly off of "Fox & Friends", quote: As the court is aware after originally stating the government seized thousands if not millions of pages of privileged documents, Michael Cohen subsequently identified three current clients. Of those three clients, one Sean Hannity has since said that Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter, I never retained him, received an invoice or paid legal fees. Another client President Trump reportedly said on cable television this morning that Cohen performs a tiny, tiny little fraction of his overall legal work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He says that this morning on television, and it ends up in this court filing within two hours. President Trump said on cable television this morning that Cohen performs a tiny, tiny little fraction of his overall legal work. These statements -- the filing continues -- these statements by two of Cohen`s three identified clients suggest that the seized materials are unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents.
That`s how you know you botched the interview. That`s how you know when you said the wrong thing about your legal case in a public forum. It`s a hint, right? That you might have misjudged that.
If you`re involved in a legal matter and you say something publicly and then two hours later, the prosecutors in your legal matter have written it into the case against you, that`s how you knew you didn`t do a good interview.
So, the president temperamentally lost it in public today, and we should know that as a country because he`s the president. Even before he goes to meet with the dictator in North Korea to talk about nuclear matters, we should know that that`s how he was today. The president did blow up his own legal defense today.
But here`s one last thing that happened today in this same case. Prosecutors in the Cohen case dropped their opposition to having a special master review documents in the Cohen raid to see if the seized documents really are attorney-client confidential communications. So, the judge has now appointed a special master.
Prosecutors had been against that before, but they dropped their objections today. So, there is a special master. Them dropping their objections makes it seem to me like prosecutors in this case are coming to a conclusion that this whole attorney-client privilege defense is not going to be much of a problem for the case they`re building on Michael Cohen. That`s how it seems to me. Are they right?
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: "Wall Street Journal" has just posted a new long report on President Trump`s personal attorney Michael Cohen. "The Journal" is reporting tonight that Mr. Cohen was disgruntled during the presidential campaign because when Steve Bannon was named Trump campaign CEO, when he got that campaign manager job on the Trump campaign Mr. Cohen had thought that he was going to be named campaign manager. Then according to "The Journal" after Trump won the presidency, Mr. Cohen was reportedly disgruntled and upset again because he told people at the time he had expected that he would be named White House chief of staff.
Neither of those things happened, obviously. Michael Cohen stayed in New York City when Trump became president and moved to Washington. "The Journal" reports tonight that in a phone call this past November, Mr. Cohen reportedly sort of pleaded his case with the president in emotional terms.
Quote: boss, I miss you so much. I wish I was down there with you. It`s really hard for me to be here.
And that was before we know federal investigators started their criminal investigation into Mr. Cohen. And that is sort of a sad sack tale of somebody being left behind when somebody they thought they were close to moves on up. But aside from the interpersonal stuff there, that may have a whole new urgency to it if that person who feels disgruntled and abandoned is now being pressured by federal prosecutors to flip against a guy who he`s apparently convinced he has been wronged by. Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan.
Barbara, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me on such a news-filled day.
MADDOW: Yes, man, everything all at once all the time. I watched the president`s remarks in this remarkable cable news interview that he did today, and obviously the president`s emotional state was one of the takeaways that you couldn`t avoid. But the president made really specific remarks about what seems to me to be the central case that he and Michael Cohen have been making to try to fend off this federal investigation in New York. He seemed to undercut that claim by saying Mr. Cohen doesn`t do much legal work for him and he doesn`t believe anything Cohen is being investigated for touches on his legal practice as an attorney.
Is it your sense looking at that, that that does actually sort of undercut what Cohen and Trump have been doing to try to defend themselves in that case?
MCQUADE: Absolutely, 100 percent. This is the precise reason that lawyers advise their clients not to talk when they`re under investigation. This is the kind of clip that law professors will use to train law students about why you advise clients not to talk about their own case because they might inadvertently undermine something that their lawyer is trying to do as a matter of legal strategy, and I think President Trump did that today.
MADDOW: Did it surprise you when prosecutors in the southern district turned around the president`s remarks so quickly? I mean, the president made these remarks this morning at breakfast time. By lunchtime, they were incorporated into a federal filing by prosecutors from the Southern District, citing the president, quoting the president directly as a way of undermining his lawyers` case.
Is that the sort of thing that only happens in a case this high-profile involving the president or are prosecutors generally that nimble?
MCQUADE: It`s impressive. They`re clearly on the ball, but I think they`re probably paying attention to President Trump`s public remarks, his tweets, his statements in interviews, because he has had the propensity to sort of undermine his own positions or say things without thinking them through carefully. So, I don`t know where they got it but I`m impressed they were able to put it in. And it absolutely undermined his position in this case because I think it helped them to show that the universe of that which is privileged is likely to be pretty small.
MADDOW: In court today in New York, these prosecutors for the Southern District, they withdrew their previous objection to the idea of appointing a third party, a special master, to go through all the documents that were seized in the raid to find any items that might legitimately be protected by attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors had previously not wanted there to be a special master to do that. They said it could be handled within the prosecutor`s office.
It struck me today when they dropped that objection and the judge went ahead and appointed the special master, it struck me as a civilian without a law degree that maybe the prosecutors aren`t that worried about this issue anymore, maybe they think that this may be the pillar of the defense here but they`ve sort of gotten around it and they don`t have much to worry about.
MCQUADE: Yes, if you think about what has changed since their initial pleading is Michael Cohen has been required to submit to the court his actual client list. You know, at the outset who knew how many clients he had. Maybe it was hundreds. And we`ve learned it`s only three.
And that one of those is Sean Hannity who says he doesn`t have any matters he`s ever been represented on. This Mr. Broidy, who had one discrete matter apparently, and President Trump who now says it`s a tiny, tiny fraction of his legal work. And so, the U.S. attorney`s manual does say that lawyers should consider a special master when going through this kind of process of searching an attorney`s office.
And I can`t imagine -- the only reason I would imagine that the lawyers at the front didn`t favor that option is they feared that it might delay things and take too long. And now that they know that the universe of privileged material is likely very small, that may be a reason to say, you know what, we don`t mind that there`s a special master here, and in fact, it might help blunt the criticism from the other side that there is something unfair that was done here.
MADDOW: Right, exactly. So if there`s not much to get through here, this can`t be much of a delay. And if they were going to complain about this process -- well, it`s hard for them to complain about it since this is the way they asked to do it in the first place, this is what they asked for, we`ve given it to them, we`re not too worried.
It seems like a -- seems like a confident stroke from these prosecutors. But we shall see.
Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan, really appreciate your time tonight, Barb. Thank you.
MCQUADE: Great. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Lots, lots, lots of ground to cover tonight. Lots more news. Stay with us.
MADDOW: EPA administrator Scott Pruitt went to Capitol Hill today to face questions from members of Congress for the first time since a litany of scandals started trailing him around like cans tied to a bumper after a particularly unpleasant wedding.
There are now so many ethical scandals attached to Scott Pruitt. Inspector general investigations and GIO investigations and ethics investigations and White House Budget Office investigations, and White House counsel investigations, news outlets had to publish infographics and pictorial guides to help organize all the different scandals and allegation that Pruitt is facing into an understandable set of groups so you could follow along while members of Congress yelled at him.
But if you really want to boil it down and you want to know why Pruitt is in so much trouble, just don`t try to grab all of them all at once. Just take one of these. Just pick one of these off the vine or pull one of these cans off the bumper. And watch how it has played out.
Let`s just take the magic phone booth for a second. In September, "The Washington Post" reported on a $43,000 phone booth that Scott Pruitt bought for his office with your taxpayer dollars, and that seemed weird. But the EPA was happy to explain why this thing cost so much and why Scott Pruitt needed it so badly. The EPA told reporters at the time, quote: Federal agencies need to have one of these so that security communications not subject to hacking from the outside can be held. It`s called a sensitive compartmented information facility, SCIF, end quote.
That was from the EPA in September. You can sort of hear the scolding. It`s not a soundproof booth because he`s a weird guy who just randomly wants a soundproof booth.
This is an official thing. He needs it. It`s his SCIF. It`s his sensitive compartmented information facility and you don`t know that because you don`t need one. But he does. That`s what the EPA said in September to justify spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on this thing.
Two and a half months later, December, they told us the same story again, but this time we heard it straight from the boss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: Press accounts said that you installed a $25,000 soundproof booth in your office at EPA headquarters. Is that true?
SCOTTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: It`s a secure phone line.
DEGETTE: OK. So it`s a SCIF, what we call a sensitive compartmental information facility. Is that right?
PRUITT: They are -- yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. So, it`s a SCIF? Yes.
Scott Pruitt saying very clearly, as clear as his office had been a few months before, that this thing in his office which was originally thought to cost $25,000 turned out to be more like $43,000, that was his SCIF.
Now, SCIF is a real thing. It`s a super secure space where government officials can talk about highly sensitive classified material without having to worry that anyone is surveilling them while they do it. They`re technically specific things. They have to have a certain kind of lock on the door, special studs bolting the whole thing together. You have to keep a list of everybody who`s allowed inside the SCIF. That list needs to be kept in a specific way, in a specific place.
The how to build a SCIF manual gets up toward 200 pages long. That`s what you built, Scott Pruitt, in your office? Yes, Scott Pruitt was very clear when he told Congress that`s what he had.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEGETTE: OK. So it`s a SCIF, what we call a sensitive compartmental information facility. Is that right?
PRUITT: They are -- yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, SCIF, it`s a SCIF.
Well, we looked at what Scott Pruitt had bought for his office, and watt EPA said publicly about this thing he bought for the office. Then we looked at the guidelines for what counts as a SCIF, and we started wondering, is this $43,000 contraption he put in his office really a SCIF, as Scott Pruitt said it was and how they justified this as a purchase?
I`ll tell you. We started asking the EPA about it. And over a series of days, we got non-answers. We got -- they wouldn`t tell us. They wouldn`t answer whether or not this followed the guidelines to be a SCIF, whether it had been certified as a SCIF.
But a few days after we started asking and we couldn`t get answers from them, after we brought this to their attention, we noticed that the EPA and Scott Pruitt did start talking about this thing differently than they used to. I mean, they wouldn`t talk to us about it, but they started talking about it differently to other people.
They told "Bloomberg News" on Friday that, quote, Administrator Pruitt simply requested a secure phone line but never asked for a soundproof booth nor did he have knowledge of its purchase.
Now, whatever it is he built for $43,000, all he wanted was a new phone. And when Scott Pruitt went to Congress today, it turns out he changed his mind entirely about this thing that he built.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEGETTE: Administrator Pruitt, when you were in front of this committee in December, we discussed the installation of a soundproof privacy booth in the administrator`s office, or the SCIF, at a cost of over $40,000. At that time, you told me that your view was the expenditure -- was that the expenditure was appropriate despite the fact there were two other SCIFs at the EPA. Is that correct?
PRUITT: This is actually not a SCIF.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh. Now, it`s not a SCIF.
It is one thing to be profligate and wasteful with taxpayer money. It`s one thing to have weird priorities about spending taxpayer funds on really expensive things for yourself you that don`t seem to really need. But in this case, it really seems like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent a ton of taxpayer money on something that was kind of fake, that wasn`t real. That they made up.
They said it was a SCIF and it never was. It was never certified as that. That`s why they said they needed it. That isn`t what they built.
I mean, for that kind of lie you can get in real trouble, and not just festered by cable TV producers.
MADDOW: White House cleared something up today. Shortly before 9:00 a.m., Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote to reporters, quote, Admiral Jackson is a doctor in the United States navy assigned to the White House and he is here at work today.
Thank you for clearing that up. And only minutes after Admiral Ronny Jackson withdrew as the nominee to run the V.A. The explosion of Dr. Jackson`s nomination to run the V.A. comes with a whole bunch of fallout. Part of it is what happens to his current job, because of the scrutiny he received as a cabinet nominee, we`ve now learned a whole bunch of new stuff about Ronny Jackson`s time as the White House physician and his time in the White House medical unit. Unprofessional behavior he is said by his colleagues to have exhibited on the job is laid out in the 2012 I.G. report. Also, a list of jaw-dropping allegations against him from 23 current and former colleagues in that office including accusations of repeated drunkenness on the job.
Ronny Jackson`s tenure at the White House medical unit is turning out to be a whole new scandal that we didn`t know about before, before he got this nomination. And it blew up.
We don`t know yet how this new scandal will play out. We don`t know if the Pentagon will now do its own investigation into what exactly has been going on with these active duty military personnel in the White House physician`s office. So, that`s part of the fallout. Does he stay as the president`s doctor?
A second bit of fallout here is that this now makes two dozen, 24 Senate confirmable nominees including cabinet nominees the president has put forward who have failed as nominations. This is either a vetting problem or we`re starting to see the results of what happens when you try to run a federal government without any vetting process at all. It`s either bad vetting or no vetting.
But then there`s also this. The implosion of Jackson`s nomination was not just some generic nomination to run some generic government agency. The nomination that he was up for is something that is absolutely unique in U.S. government and is in a really, really, really big load of hurt right now, in part because of the way this blew up. And this story`s next.
MADDOW: The reason the V.A. secretary position was vacant in the first place for the Ronny Jackson nomination that became such a disaster is because President Trump and the White House pushed out David Shulkin last month. And, yes, there were ethics concerns about his traveling and spending as V.A. secretary.
But you know what? See exhibit A Scott Pruitt as proof that it takes more than scandal around travel and spending to get a person pushed out from a Trump cabinet position.
David Shulkin for his part has been very clear as to why he thinks he was pushed out. He thinks it wasn`t because of ethics concerns. He thinks it was because of people within the administration and important influencers outside the administration who want to privatize the V.A. And he opposed it, and so, that`s why they got rid of him.
This ongoing pressure to privatize the V.A. is one of the things that Shulkin`s predecessor at the V.A., Bob McDonald, warned was happening. And when he was V.A. secretary, he warned against it over and over again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MCDONALD, FORMER SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Some have argued, hard to believe, some have argued V.A. can best serve veterans by shutting down V.A. health care all together. They argue that closing VHA is the bold transformation veterans and families need, want, deserve. I suspect their proposal serves some parties somewhere pretty well.
But it`s not transformational. It`s more along the lines of dereliction. It doesn`t serve veterans well and certainly doesn`t sit well with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was then-V.A. Secretary Bob McDonald in July of 2016. So, right at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign.
After Trump won the election and came time to choose a cabinet, Mr. Trump put off announcing his choice for V.A. secretary for a very, very long time. It was one of the last positions he announced.
And during that time when nobody knew what was going to happen to that job, all these veterans groups lined up to ask Trump to please keep Bob McDonald on as V.A. secretary. He had their trust. They thought he was doing a good job.
But Trump did not listen to them. He fired Bob McDonald, who had continued to warn against privatizing the V.A. Then Trump went on to fire Shulkin. Shulkin says that he was fired because of his resistance to efforts to privatize the V.A.
And then, the Ronny Jackson disaster happened. So, now, what happens?
I mean, not just in terms of the administration, who they try to nominate next. But for this specific part of our government`s sacred responsibility to take care of our veterans particularly in light of what appears to be very serious pressure to try to make the V.A. go away. What happens here next for V.A.? I wonder if Bob McDonald would come back.
Joining us now is Robert McDonald, former secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Obama.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here. Really appreciate it.
MCDONALD: Thanks. Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I don`t mean to spring this on you, but would you take this job back if they offered it to you?
MCDONALD: I`d have to talk to the president. I mean, certainly, being the secretary of the V.A. was the biggest privilege of my life, the biggest honor of my life. I would have to talk to the president and make sure he and I agreed on what the vision was moving forward before I would agree to do it.
MADDOW: You warned about the pressures toward privatization, which would essentially in some ways abolish the V.A. health care system. David Shulkin, who was your successor in the job, when he was fired, he said that A, I didn`t resign, and, B, the reason I was fired is because I think I was standing in the way of privatization and those forces are powerful.
How did that strike as a criticism. Do you think that`s been a driving force here for what`s happened?
MCDONALD: Well, there certainly is a faction that would like to privatize the V.A. I`ve been to many events where people have come up to me and said that V.A. care`s inadequate. All we have do is privatize them. Imagine putting 9 million veterans in an already crowded health care system with co-morbidities and poly trauma and all the things that come with warfare.
And, usually, when I say that, I`m, number one, argue a veteran. I`ve never met a veteran who wants to privatize the V.A. Number two, do you have a stake in this? And usually, there is some kind of stake in it, some kind of ownership of private sector health care.
Privatizing the V.A. is a bad idea. It`s not only a bad idea for veterans because they get great care from the V.A. But it`s also bad idea for American people and American medicine. Many innovations, in American medicine, have come from the V.A.
Things like the first implantable cardiac pacemaker, things like taking aspirin a day to ward off heart disease, things like BrainGate, where we put a sensor in your brain and move a prosthetic arm, advances in prosthetics and others.
Also the V.A. trains 70 percent of doctors in the country. We have relationships with 1,800 medical schools. So who`s going to train these doctors? Who`s going to do that research?
In addition to those doctors who do that research, and do that training, also provide care to veterans. And the veterans as a result get great care. So privatizing the V.A. is not a good idea and as I said, the majority of veterans and veterans groups don`t want it.
MADDOW: And there is pressure on that subject which is animating some of the politics around the V.A.
MCDONALD: Certainly there is, certainly there is.
MADDOW: Because of the complexity of the V.A., because of its size, because of the importance of its work, frankly, honestly, because of the unusual fact there is bipartisan support for the V.A. and V.A. policymaking tends to be of a bipartisan nature which is a freak -- which is a freak of nature in Washington right now. Because so many things are different about the V.A., there`s been debate about what is the right kind of experience for a person to have in order to run an agency that big, that important, that complicated, that different.
You had a business background, you`re a veteran, you`d run a large organization before. What did running the V.A. tell you about your best way to get prepared to do something that hard?
MCDONALD: Yes, I frankly think president Obama had it right. You know, he chose me, historically, Republican, to be part of his Democratic administration but he knew I`d run a Fortune 25 company around the world, lived around the world, worked in many different cultures and he knew I was a veteran, a West Point graduate, and an infantry officer, airborne ranger.
So I think he had it right. I think that`s what you need. You know, if the V.A. were a Fortune 100 company, it would be Fortune 9, would be the ninth largest company in this country. I auditioned for 29 years before I became the CEO of the Procter & Gamble company, which is about Fortune 25. It`s lunatic to think that you can put a new CEO in every four years or every eight years, and drive sustained success. Our veterans deserve better.
MADDOW: Robert McDonald is the former secretary of veterans affairs under President Obama who had a remarkable amount of support from veterans groups at the time that Donald Trump decided not to keep him on. V.A. is an incredibly vulnerable spot right now. I hope you`re one of the people they`re talking to about how to make things better.
MCDONALD: I`ll answer the phone.
MADDOW: All right.
MCDONALD: Thank you.
MADDOW: And tell me what they said.
MCDONALD: I won`t.
MADDOW: He won`t.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is what it looks like when 50,000 people all put on the same color -- look at that -- and march together. This is Phoenix, Arizona, tens of thousands of schoolteachers marched in Phoenix, they marched to the state capitol building to protest the fact that Arizona spends way below the national average on its schools. The teachers want that changed and they have taken to the streets to ask for it.
NBC`s Gadi Schwartz shot this time lapse footage to get a sense of the scale of this two-mile-long march.
In Tucson today, they gathered along a 15-mile stretch of road. The best way to capture that was from arguably a moving car. Colorado teachers walked out of their schools today, too, went to their state capitol for increased school funding.
This walkouts and demonstrations follow walkouts by teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky and in West Virginia where teachers went on strike for nine days. In only nine weeks now this has happened in five different states. You do the math. And if you can, thank a teacher.
That does it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END